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022614KEEL.jpg

WELL AND TRULY LAID—Marinette Marine welder Charles Valitchka, Jr. applies the finishing touches to a metal plate that will become part of the keel of the littoral combat ship USS Sioux City while dignitaries look on, eyes protected from arc flash by welding shields. On the left, closest to the weld being done over initials she etched into the plate, are ship sponsor Mary Winnefeld, and her husband, U.S. Navy Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., Vice Chair of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff. “I declare this keel for the USS Sioux City has been well and truly laid,” Marinette Marine President and CEO Chuck Goddard decreed when the welding was done at the conclusion of the keel laying ceremony at the Marinette shipyard on Wednesday, Feb.19.

Keel Laying for USS Sioux City

“I know my ship will be the best LCS in the fleet,” declared Mary Winnefeld, sponsor of the USS Sioux City (LCS 11) at the keel laying Wednesday, Feb. 19 at Marinette Marine. “It’s clear that the management of Marinette Marine, Fincantierri and Lockheed Martin have put their A-team on this.”

Directly behind the speaker’s platform was the hull of a vessel on which construction started nearly a year ago. Winnefeld had been given a tour of the shipyard before the ceremony started, and was impressed with the four jet engines that will power the vessel. She said she has been told she will get to go out on “her” vessel when the time comes for sea trials, and she’s excited about that.

The laying of the keel celebrates an important milestone in construction of ships for the United States Navy. The sponsor, traditionally a female with close ties to the Navy, the namesake or the ship’s mission, is considered to be a permanent member of the ship’s crew and shares a part of her spirit with the ship, serving as an advocate for its continued service and well-being.

The keel is the first of 71 modules that will become the USS Sioux City. Construction is expected to take about 18 months.

USS Freedom, first ever of the versatile LCS class ships built for the United States Navy, was constructed in Marinette. Construction is underway on five LCS at the Marinette shipyard and this is the fourth keel being built under the current 10 ship contract.

Officials didn’t let concern over cuts in the LCS program proposed by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagle put a damper on the ceremony.

“When this vessel is completed we hope it will help to make our world safer,” Monsignor James Dillenenburg said in his invocation. “Bless them all with safety and pride in their work,” he said on behalf of the men and women who will share in building the ship.

Joe North, Vice President of Lockheed Martin, said the skilled workmanship at Marinette Marine will insure the safety of the crew that will man the vessel.

Capt. Trevor King, USN Chief of Staff for the Littoral Combat Ship Program, said the littoral combat ships are designed to defend threats in coastal waters. “We live in dangerous and uncertain times, facing an enemy like no other,” he said of the need for versatile and agile defense.

“Midwestern workers know what quality is and put together a great product,” declared U.S. Navy Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., Vice Chair of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s second highest military officer, before introducing Mary, his wife, as the ship’s sponsor.

He said Mary is a responsible Navy wife who moved with him to 18 different assignments during their 25 years of marriage. She was even rocketed in Afghanistan, he said. He described her as “a wonderful, energetic, beautiful and gracious woman, but one who means business.”

Mary Winnefeld, who was born and raised in Menomonie, Wis., said she never dreamed when she left the state as a bride that she would one day come back as sponsor of a naval vessel being built here. “You never know what life holds in store for you,” she declared.

“I’m both honored and delighted to be back in my home state of Wisconsin as the sponsor of the future USS Sioux City,” said Mrs. Winnefeld. “It’s been a real privilege to meet the great Americans who are building this versatile ship, and I thank them in advance for their quality work. I look forward to meeting her crew soon, being part of her family, and bringing our ship to life when she’s commissioned.”

She compared her vessel to a good military spouse: low maintenance, flexible, adaptable, dependable and able to turn on a dime when the need arises. Also like a military wife, she said, “This ship is a lean, mean fighting machine!” She has been told she will get to go out for the seal trials once construction is complete, and she just can’t wait. “My ship will be like a jet on the water,” she declared.

“I don’t think I’ll ever think of an LCS in the same way again,” commented Goddard at the end of her address.

Wednesday’s ceremony came less than a year after the first sheet of steel was cut for the USS Sioux City as the nation’s 11th littoral combat ship Sioux City’s construction began from a single steel sheet in June 2013. Now, there are 42 of 71 modules under construction, a result of the full-rate LCS production process at Marinette Marine. Currently, five of the Freedom-class warships are under various stages of construction, demonstrating the swift progress of the program.

“We are proud to provide our Sailors with a proven warship that allows them to carry out their missions around the world,” said Dale P. Bennett, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business. “We are working in partnership with the Navy as they build a fleet able to operate forward, stand ready for any challenges, and serve our essential war fighting requirements.”

Sioux City will join the next generation Freedom-class warships in providing the Navy with a flexible, affordable platform to address the changing littoral threats across the globe.

USS Freedom, the nation’s first LCS, recently completed her maiden deployment to Southeast Asia. Freedom proved the Navy’s concept of operations as she participated in multinational naval exercises, conducted patrols of the South China Sea and responded to disaster relief efforts.

USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) will be the next LCS to deploy later this year.

In December 2013, Milwaukee (LCS 5) was formally christened and launched into the Menominee River.

Milwaukee will undergo trials before delivery to the Navy.

Detroit (LCS 7) and Little Rock (LCS 9) are under construction.

Construction on Wichita (LCS 13) began in January 2014.

Billings (LCS 15) will begin construction in 2014.


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